Many children may feel that eating dry cereal and fruit snacks for every meal is appropriate, but you know better. And while it may seem like you’re re-enacting a Civil War battle every time you put something remotely healthy in front of your picky eater, you’re doing great, Mom and Dad. Here’s nine strategies to make mealtime feel more like a picnic than a skirmish.
- Stick to a routine. We know you’ve heard this one before, but it really is the answer to many childhood struggles. Eat meals and snacks at roughly the same time each day. Don’t let children fill up on juice right before meals or snack too often. You want them to come to the table hungry and ready to gobble up whatever you put in front of them.
- Don’t expect a hole in one. You’re likely not going to have success on the first exposure of most foods. But if kids turn up their nose at the cooked carrots at Wednesday dinner, don’t let that be the last time they see them. Cook them up again with different foods for lunch on Sunday.
- Respect your child’s appetite. Sometimes you’ve just got to respect your child’s appetite. Think about it; is your appetite the same every day? While this likely doesn’t apply to every incident of pickiness, sometimes your child may not be hungry. Forcing children to eat can result in anxiety and make them less aware of their own signals of hunger and fullness. If your child says he is not hungry, set aside the food in question for later eating–no trading in vegetables for ice cream later. Also, if there are one or two foods that your child can’t tolerate, look for alternatives that offer the same nutritive values.
- Be the change. You have a role too. We’re all allowed a few veggies that we just can’t stomach (Brussels sprouts, anyone?), but if you want your child to eat a well-balanced diet, you’ll have to be the role model and do the same. Your kids might get a charge out of liking a food that you don’t, so liven dinner up and talk about your favorite and least-favorite foods!
- Get them involved. When kids experience ownership and pride in their work, you can often get them to be more adventurous with new foods. Could you let them help you cook one night, or help you plan the week’s menu? Or how about starting a small vegetable garden?
- Be creative and a little zany. As frustrating as it can be, try to remember to have some fun with food. Offer lots of dipping sauces, shapes and colors. Pumpkin pancakes are great in the fall, and heart-shaped sandwiches add a little extra love any time.
- Ban electronics. Make dinner a technology-free time, including turning off the TV. Limit distractions so that food and conversation are the main focal points.
- Don’t be a short-order cook. Vow to make one meal and one meal only! Knowing you will make them what they want can further encourage picky eating habits.
- Get a little sneaky. If it keeps you up at night that your child has not eaten anything green in his entire five years on this planet, sneak in some veggies. Pureed spinach and sweet potatoes go great in baked goods and casseroles, and smoothies that mix fruit and veggies can be a healthy treat. Your kids will get some added nutrients and you’ll sleep better at night.
Evolving your child’s relationship with food takes time, creativity and lots of trial and error. At Sparkles!, we know children need multiple exposures to a variety of healthy foods in order to encourage a healthy diet. Keep trying at home, and we’ll back you up during the day. Together, we just might win over those picky eaters.